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Is Kolten Wong Truly the Best Defensive Second Baseman in the MLB?

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Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Kolten Wong won the first Gold Glove of his career after the 2019 season, and he arguably should have won it in the previous year as well. In the past few years he has staked his claim as one of the best defensive second basemen in all of baseball. However, he may just be the best defensive second baseman in all of baseball and the advanced metrics support this.

Last year, Wong posted 19 defensive runs saved which was six more than the next closest second baseman (Kike Hernandez). Yolmer Sanchez, the AL gold glover at second baseman had just 4 DRS. In the previous year, Wong co-led all second basemen with 16 DRS. Ozzie Albies also had 16 DRS, but he also played nearly 500 more innings at second than Wong in 2018. The NL Gold Glove winner that year was DJ LeMahieu who tallied 14 DRS, which is impressive, but still worse than Wong. DRS is clear - Kolten Wong is the best. The 29-year-old has posted more DRS (51) than any other second baseman since 2014 despite having over 1000 less innings than the next closest player (Ian Kinsler - 50). There is a case to be made for Ozzie Albies but he is not yet at Wong’s level, at least not yet.

Wong also led all major league second basemen in UZR last season with 5.2 after leading the MLB with 13.4 in 2018. Wong leads all second basemen in nearly all defensive statistics last season or the year before, including plus/minus runs saved above average and revised zone rating. However, the one category in which he did not lead his position was out of zone plays. He came in second to Yolmer Sanchez by a wide margin of 116 to 87 and in the previous year he came in 15th with 50 out of zone plays made. This is surprising as the eye test suggests that Wong is very good at making difficult plays. This is not necessarily a weak point in his game, it may just be an area where he is not as good as other second baseman. However, there was a clear improvement from 2018 to 2019, and that has described Wong’s career in the field as he has improved incrementally during his career before truly breaking out defensively in 2018.

Wong’s relative lack of out of zone plays made could be due to a smaller amount of chances than Yolmer Sanchez as much as it could be due to simply making less plays. To an extent this is true because Yolmer Sanchez had balls hit into his zone last season while Wong had 323. Sanchez also played around 60 more innings of second base than Wong in 2019, so it could be fair to say that Sanchez finished first due to simply having more opportunities. This is probably true, but even though Sanchez had more opportunities, it is unlikely that Wong would have been able to make 29 more out of zone plays if given more opportunities. Even so, he likely would have made it much closer if he had an equal amount of opportunities.

Fielding Bible has recognized Wong as the best second basemen for each of the past two seasons and the numbers appear to support this decision. If there is one area where Wong is not as good as other elite defenders at second it is making out of zone plays. However, even this may not be accurate as Fielding Bible gave Kolten Wong the best range rating of all second baseman (+16). Regardless of which stat is used, Wong appears to be the strongest defender at second base. He has shown a strong ability to make any play whether its a groundball to his left or his right, a slow roller, or a popup. Due to this, he can named as the best second baseman in baseball, and at 29 years old he can probably maintain this title for a couple of seasons. His biggest threat appears to be Ozzie Albies who demonstrated his strong ability in the field last season at just 23 years old. DJ Lemahieu is leaving his prime and is likely not going to challenge Wong as the best second basemen in the field any more. The only other challenger, Yolmer Sanchez, performed well last season, but is not nearly as good all-around as Wong in the field. Wong is not only the best second baseman in the infield, he likely deserves to be in a group with Nolan Arenado and Matt Chapman as one of the best infielders in the MLB.